“I am a first-generation college student,” the Tusculum University graduate said during a special event at the institution’s Morristown facility. “Neither of my parents went to college, nor did their brothers or sisters or any of my first cousins. My mother graduated from high school, and my father only had a second-grade education. He quit school in second grade because of a family tragedy and went to work at 8 years old.”
Brewer was one of the speakers at Tusculum’s Morristown facility Monday, Nov. 4, during a First Scholars Appreciation Week celebration. This event and similar celebrations at Tusculum’s campuses in Greeneville and Knoxville are highlighting first-generation students. More than 50 percent of Tusculum’s students today qualify for that distinction because neither of their parents received a bachelor’s degree.
Brewer’s father, who eventually owned his own business, worked until he was 87 years old and inspired her and her sisters with a strong work ethic. She recalled a question he regularly asked her and her sisters: Are you earning what you are paid? He encouraged them to be the best they could be, while their mother taught them to focus on quality, excellent and perfection in their pursuits.
“She encouraged us to go to college and our other schools and strive to improve ourselves,” Brewer said. “I grew up in Hancock County, and the school system had really good teachers in high school who encouraged us to pursue further education as well.”
Brewer attended a business school and later Walters State Community College in her initial years after high school, and the messages she received earlier in her life about the importance of education led her to require her sister, who was 10 years younger, to go to college. She helped her sister pay some of the expenses.
But Brewer knew she had unfinished business herself and enrolled at Tusculum, which then offered classes at Walters State, to earn her degree. She successfully completed her degree while also working full time. Since her graduation, she has served on Tusculum’s Alumni Executive Board.
“I encourage you to keep studying and continue working hard on your degree,” Brewer said. “As a result of my degree, I received two or three promotions at my job.”
Kay Senter, a Morristown City Council member and a member of the university’s Presidential Advisory Council in Morristown, joined Tusculum for the event. The room where she spoke was named in 2008 after her late husband, Jim, a 1996 Tusculum graduate, at the request of Miller Lyons, a friend and 1976 Tusculum graduate. During her remarks, she highlighted the value of education.
“Education is that pathway you will never forget,” Senter said. “We have individuals whose lives have been changed because of education. Education is an investment that gives dividends for the rest of your life.
“What’s wonderful about Tusculum’s facility in Morristown is it serves the community. It means that we are going to have educated citizens who are going to be prepared to go out and obtain jobs. We have industries that are coming in that are looking for individuals who are dedicated and want to improve themselves. An educated citizen also contributes to a thriving economy in Morristown. Education changes your opportunities in life and opens up doors you never imagined.”